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Data Virtualization and BYOData
10/03/2011

A couple of recent posts noted the advantages and disadvantages of a policy of customer support involving BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. The discussion revealed that support involved not only allowing the laptop to hook into the corporate network and access corporate apps, but also allowing “non-standard” software inside corporate boundaries: BYOS, or Bring Your Own Software. However, no one asked the obvious question:  what about the data on that laptop, or the data on the Web that the laptop could access but corporate did not?  Should IT support Bring Your Own Data?

This is not just a theoretical question. A recent missive from BI supplier MicroStrategy invited prospective customers to load their own spreadsheets on its cloud offering, and play around. I doubt that MicroStrategy would have suggested this if there were not significant numbers of business users out there with their own business-related data who would like to analyze it with corporate-style BI tools. One can think of other applications: OLAP (online analytical processing) on spreadsheets, beloved of CFOs and CMOs; business performance management, with corporate “what-if” scenario data lugged around by mobile executives; or simple, cheap cloud sales tools for direct sales, syncing with corporate databases.

 

And that may be the tip of the iceberg.  After all, knowledge workers today are typically not encouraged to go out there and collect data to be analyzed. And yet, the amount of data in the Web about competitors and customers not captured by corporate data stores continues to grow. One survey a while ago estimated that 1/3 of relevant new data on the Web is not ingested  by IT data stores for a year or more after it arrives. Proactive encouragement might allow “worker crowdsourcing” of this type of data. For example, communities within a computer vendor for finding out about customer computer performance would allow employees to bring their own customer-report data inside the enterprise.

 

So, IT support of BYOData is worth considering. But that leads to the next point:  BYOData is significantly different from all previous data sources.  It is consumer data; it is of widely differing types; it has typically not been supported to the same level before; and a greater proportion of it comes from consumer apps – which may or may not use the same databases or file managers as businesses do, and which often are not set up to export data in common formats. We’re not talking spreadsheets here; we’re talking GPS data collected by iPhone apps.

 

Data integration tools are the obvious tools for allowing careful merging of existing enterprise data and BYOData. And among those tools, I would argue, Data Virtualization (DV) tools are the best of the best.

 

Data Virtualization vs. Other Alternatives

Data virtualization tools are an obvious candidate to handle unusual data types and allow querying across BYOData and relational or semi-structured (emails, corporate documents) corporate data. After all, DV tools were designed from the beginning to be highly flexible in the types of data they supported, and to provide a user interface that allowed meaningful combination of multiple data types on-the-fly (i.e., for real-time querying). But there are two other obvious candidates for combining BOYData and corporate relational data warehouses: Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) tools.

 

EAI tools are best at combining data from multiple enterprise databases, such as Oracle Apps, SAP, Oracle Peoplesoft, and Oracle Siebel. Over the years, their abilities have been extended to other corporate data, such as IBM’s use of Ascential for its Master Data Management (MDM) product. However, they are much less likely to support non-corporate Web data, and they have less experience in delivering user-friendly interfaces to combined relational and semi-structured or unstructured data.

 

ETL tools are highly skilled at taking operational enterprise data that has already been massaged into a corporate-standard format and merging it for use in a data warehouse. This also means careful protection of the data warehouse from poor-quality data – not an insignificant concern when one considers the poor quality of much BYOData. However, ETL tools are also unlikely to provide full support for non-corporate Web data, and are not tasked at all with delivering user-friendly interfaces to non-relational data outside of the data warehouse.

 

Two concepts from programming appear relevant here:  multi-tenancy, and the “sandbox.” A multi-tenant application provides separate corporate “states” over common application code, ensuring not only security but effective use of common code. A “sandbox” is a separated environment for programmers so that they can test programs in the real world without endangering operational software. In the case of BYOData, the data warehouse could be thought of as containing multiple personal “tenant data stores” that appear to each end user as if they are part of the overall data-warehouse data store, but which are actually separated into “data sandboxes” until administrators decide they are safe to incorporate into the corporate warehouse.

 

Assuming that IT takes this approach to handling BYOData, DV tools are the logical tools to bridge each “data sandbox” with corporate data, whether said corporate data resides in operational data stores, line-of-business file collections, or data-mart data stores.  At the same time, ETL tools are the logical place to start when IT starts to plunder these BYOData sets for enterprise insights by staging the personal data into corporate data stores. When run-the-business applications can benefit from BYOData, EAI and MDM tools are the logical place to start in staging this data into application data stores.

 

But whether IT takes this approach or not, DV tools are the logical overall organizer of BYOData – because they are so flexible. BYOData types will be evolving rapidly over the next couple of years, as social media continue to jump from fad to fad. Only tools that are cross-organizational, like DV tools, can hope to keep up.

 

The IT Bottom Line

The idea of BYOData is a bit speculative. Nothing says that either software vendors or IT shops will embrace the concept – although it appears to offer substantial benefits to the enterprise.

 

However, if they do follow the idea of Bring Your Own Device to its logical conclusion … then BYOData via DV tools is an excellent way to go.

 

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